Salvaging roadkill

Conservation officer assists family with harvesting meat from roadkill

Getting dispatched to deal with injured or road-killed wildlife such as a deer or elk is fairly common in my district, an area in northwestern New Mexico that spans from the Arizona state line east to the community of Thoreau and from the Catron County line north to the southern portion of the Navajo Resexrvation. The frequencies of these calls increase during dry summer months where the only green grass seems to grow along the edges of paved roads. I try to salvage game animals that are fit for human consumption before they spoil. During the cooler months it’s easier to find people who want to purchase “roadkill” animals to salvage, but when it’s hot it can be very tough as most people don’t have walk in coolers or enough ice chests to keep the meat cool while they cut it up.

People who find roadkill cannot just pick them up, but must get permission from the local conservation officer for the area who will be able to sell the roadkill and issue a receipt for legal possession of the animal. Monies that are collected go into the Game Protection Fund.

Being a conservation officer for many years, I have dealt with numerous roadkill wildlife situations. When this particular phone call came in, I was at the State Police office in Gallup working on some paperwork. The dispatcher told me there was a report of an injured deer on Highway 264, which goes to Window Rock, Ariz.; this particular stretch of highway is the site of occasional deer and vehicle collisions. There is good deer habitat in the area where mines have received reclamation work and the deer will cross the road as they travel in their home area.

I headed out to the location and upon arrival found the deer in a depression alongside the highway and a short distance from a gas station. It was very obvious she had a fractured hip and was in a bad way. I walked inside the gas station to let the attendant know that I was going to need to discharge my firearm in order to put down the suffering animal.

I assured her that I would make sure everything was safe before doing so.

As I left the gas station to approach the suffering doe, a man asked if he could have the deer. I told him I would be happy to sell the deer to him and that the price would be very reasonable because I knew the temperatures would be rising and I was certain the hind quarters of the deer would have some meat loss due to deep bruising. I explained to him I would collect the money and I would issue him a receipt which would be his possession permit for the deer.

I put down the doe, ending her suffering. This is not the fun part of the job; however, I realize it is necessary. It made me feel better knowing that she was going to be utilized by a family and the money made from salvaging her was going into the Game Protection Fund. The man, a local Navajo resident, walked up to me and said his family was going to use the deer at his grandma’s 80th birthday party and the festivities were just a few hours away. The family was expecting over 50 and up to 100 family members arriving for the event. They had family coming in from Phoenix, he noted.

The only truck he had access to was being used at the moment to pick up chairs and tables for the party, the man told me. He only lived about six miles from our location so I told him I could winch the animal into the bed of my truck and follow him the short distance to his residence. By this time the temperatures were getting warm; I was beginning to sweat and could obviously feel the heat.

Once we arrived I filled out a sales receipt with the man and collected the money from him. While I filled out the receipt, the man told me his other family members had butchered a sheep earlier that morning and the family would utilize the entire animal. He told me they would be making Ach’ii, a traditional Navajo dish.

The animal needed to be dressed and cooled as the temperatures kept rising. Together we field dressed the deer using the gutless method. I showed him all of the intricate details of breaking down venison. I recommended his son, a young teenager who seemed interested in the process, to get some ice to put on the meat as it was taken from the carcass.

It was very evident to me that we need to pass along to people every chance we get to teach them about hunting skills, caring for their game and how hunting helps conservation. I hope that day’s adventure introduced him to one of the benefits of hunting — eating some of the most natural protein on planet earth!

About Storm Usrey

Storm Usrey is the Conservation Education Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.